Back to Middle Earth
Week 1, The search continues...
We left with some unanswered questions:
There is also the question of who was shooting stasis webs at Pfusand and why. It may be a long time before we learn the answer to that one. On the pessimistic side, it could have been a worldbender, but then why didn't he grab her in the half hour she was waiting for us, or the whole day between the actual pickup and our first appearance, when we first noticed him, or for that matter the twenty years she was on Akon-naza? Maybe he was a well-intentioned historian, protecting an important historical figure from the rough handling he accidentally provoked in her paranoid companions.
But back to our heroes themselves. We left them in the depths of the pantope, investigating a barracks room occupied by ten sleepers in stasis. The barracks adjoins a ready-room with two locked doors. Cantrel is intrigued and comes down from the bridge with his lockpicking tools. He is able to pick the lock on one door, but the other defeats him, so he blasts it open with a laser rifle. Some alarms go off and the robot floats in from the autoscaler housing to see what's wrong. When it sees that it's just Cantrel being violent again, it floats out.
The first door reveals a barracks exactly like the earlier one, complete with ten sleepers, plus a little extra dust. The second door, the blasted one, opens on a larger barracks, with ten static sleepers, a round tables, and exotic tools in the storage chests. One looks like it might be a tricorder- like instrument; the others are unintelligible. This fancier barracks also has two more doors. They lead to two MORE barracks like the first sets. So we have five barracks, four plain and one fancy, each with ten occupants, for a grand total of fifty strangers sleeping in the bowels of our pantope. We decide to leave them alone for the time being.
We then take time out and train for four months, getting ready for Middle Earth. Tom and Alag take medical training from the autodoc and Lorelei, in an effort to replace the unconscious Dr. Wu. [Anton, come back!] Chris and Tom study more psychic skills, Tom gives classes in Total Recall, and everybody takes combat training of various kinds.
Toward the end of this period, we assume our disguises for Middle Earth. The most startling is Pfusand's. Last time she was on Middle Earth, she turned into a Beorning. She does this again, but to confuse the trail, she turns into a MALE Beorning. This is a little disconcerting to the rest of the crew, but reasonable from her point of view -- humans are so unlike Nazas, the difference between human sexes is negligible. If you were turning into an armadillo, would you care much which sex it was?
Daewen assumes a more oriental appearance, without using the autodoc. Alag does the same, but uses the autodoc. Chris gets his ears and hair fixed and Tom, while remaining eo-human, assumes dark hair, gray eyes, and a pale complexion, along with other changes of feature to suggest elvish blood. This will help explain any psychic powers he is caught using, since they are very rare among mortals on Middle Earth. The rest of the crew changes their faces around more or less randomly, except Victoria, who is staying on board with Darnel. Nate is made over to look oriental.
This oriental theme is part of our cover story. The party will claim to be from the East. There, our kingdom has fallen into disorder because the dynasty died out. We'd like to go back to the previous dynasty, but this involved out finding their crown. This was lost years ago and, our lore has it, passed from hand to hand until it reached the hoard of the dwarf-king under the Lonely Mountain. We will be willing to pay for it, but we need it back. We can't describe it, but we can recognize it by certain secret signs recorded in our lore.
When we have found the "true crown" (the diadem segment), we will crown Nate with it. Tom will touch him with a particular ring while crowning him and a triggered Glamour spell will drastically improve his looks. Thus will the "true heir" be known. This touch was Chris's idea.
All this settled, we open the pantope a short march from Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, in 2988 Third Age. Bilbo Baggins is back in the Shire, 97 years old. Frodo has come to live with him. In fourteen years, Bilbo will leave for Rivendel and Frodo will inherit the Ring. In 31 years, Frodo will flee the Shire pursued by the Nazgul, and the plot will be well under weigh. We hope to be long gone by then.
Alag and Daewen march up to the gates while the rest of us watch from remote concealment. The dwarves are gruff and surly, as usual, but open their gates readily when Alag explains he would like to engage their services, for a suitable fee. He explains about the "lost crown" and would like the dwarves to (1) gather up all the crowns from their current treasure troves and (2) do an inventory of any crowns they may have sold or given away since they took possession of Erebor. We will, of course, pay for this service. If any of the crowns proves to be the missing one, we will pay for the crown.
The dwarves want a hundred-weight of gold for the search. Alag tries to haggle them down, partly to look serious, but partly because he isn't sure even the pantope can grind out that much gold. But the price stays at 100, about $500,000 American. He tells them he'll return in three weeks, with the rest of our party and the money. They draw up a contract, signed by Ori and King Dain, and the elves leave.
Tom and Cantrel lurk around the countryside for three weeks, to see if this visit stirs up any unexpected activity. It doesn't. Meanwhile, six more weeks of training pass on the pantope. Then the whole troop disembarks, complete with 150-weight of gold, plus some gems. This adventure is looks like it will be expensive.
The dwarves admit us to the interior of the mountain and lead us to a cavern walled with crystal, containing several tables covered with cloths. There are lumpy things under the cloths -- lots of them. There are five dwarves, very well dressed, plus a couple of dozen troops around the edge of the room. One of the dwarves is Ori, whom we've met. He explains there are 317 crowns (!), plus 37 on the list of exported crowns and three they've lost track of.
One of the other four dwarves is Balin, who is scheduled by the plot to lead a colonizing expedition to the Mines of Moria (and perish tragically). Balin claims one of the old dwarf-made crowns as his. Tom, who is in charge of identifying the crown, says that our crown was probably of Mannish make, but perhaps we'd better look at Balin's first. We do and it isn't ours. In fact, none of the 317 is ours. We even get permission to examine Dain's three crowns (one formal, one casual, one built into a battle-helm) and it isn't any of them. (Tom examines the crowns by pretending to look for secret marks and such on the inside. Actually, he has the diadem detector built into a necklace he wears, and he lets the detector dangle within a few centimeters of the crown. If it lights up, it's our crown.)
Of the 37 exported crowns, 20 were given to Thranduil, king of the elves of Mirkwood, after the Battle of Five Armies. The other 17 were given to dwarven allies from the Iron Hills and the Eastern Mountains. We will have to check these out. We thank the dwarves and set out for Mirkwood.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.